Railway official's transfer amidst PM Modi selfie booth cost row sparks debate
An RTI response revealed that the Centre spent up to Rs 6.25 lakh on each permanent 3D selfie booth featuring PM Modi's image in railway stations
Central Railway chief public relations officer (CPRO) Dr Shivraj Manaspure has been transferred from his position without any official reason provided. This development comes just a month after the Central Railway disclosed the cost of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 3D selfie booths at railway stations in response to an RTI (right to information) request.
According to a report by the Times of India, the unanticipated transfer occurred shortly after Central Railway revealed the cost incurred for the 3D selfie booths in response to an RTI filed by social activist Ajay Bose, who sought information on the construction costs of PM Modi's 3D selfie booths from Central Railway, Western Railway, Northern Railway, North Western Railway, and Southern Railway.
The RTI response indicated that only Central Railway had provided the information, revealing that the Centre spent up to Rs 6.25 lakh on each permanent 3D selfie booth featuring PM Modi's image in railway stations, while temporary booths cost Rs 1.25 lakh per unit. Central Railway mentioned that they had set up these booths in 50 train stations across divisions such as Mumbai, Bhusaval, Nagpur, Pune, and Solapur.
In recent weeks, railway officials in Delhi and Mumbai have been compelled to provide explanations regarding the purpose of the controversial booths featuring PM Modi's image in railway stations.
Officials clarified that these installations were intended to showcase the Union government's various schemes and achievements, such as Skill India Digital, Ujjwala Yojana, and the Chandraayan mission, with the prime minister's image being just one element of the broader initiative. Despite these explanations, the transparency and appropriateness of utilising public funds for such installations have come under scrutiny.
Earlier this year, a similar directive from the defence ministry led to the army setting up 822 selfie points across locations like war memorials and museums to highlight the government's accomplishments, triggering an opposition outcry.
Additionally, the University Grants Commission issued a parallel directive, urging colleges to establish selfie points displaying the prime minister's image, further intensifying the debate around the government's emphasis on self-promotion in public spaces and using public funds.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge criticised the project, calling it a "brazen waste of taxpayers' money" and accusing the government of splurging public funds on "cheap election stunts". He pointed out that funds were pending for drought and flood relief, as well as for the MGNREGA scheme in opposition-ruled states.
Facing opposition criticism, the government defended the initiative, with education minister Dharmendra Pradhan stating, "What is the problem if selfie points are set up in colleges with pictures of a prime minister who is bringing so much glory to the country?"
In response to another RTI request, Northern Railway revealed plans to set up PM selfie photo booths at 100 locations around train stations. This revelation led to further scrutiny of the purpose behind these installations, with railway officials clarifying that they were meant to showcase the government's schemes and achievements.
In the midst of these controversies, Manaspure has been replaced by Swapnil D. Nila as the new CPRO for Central Railways. While speculation links Manaspure's transfer to the RTI response, both Nila and officials have denied any connection, attributing the shift to a "top-level decision".
Interestingly, on 16 December, Manaspure had received the Ati Vishisht Rail Seva Puraskar for 2023 from railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. The circumstances surrounding his transfer have naturally sparked discussion about potential implications for transparency and accountability within the railway administration.